My internal clock buzzes and I slowly roll off my side of the mattress. The baby boy stirs and I reach out my hand to quiet him. He drifts back to sleep (barely), as I fight to move my legs out from under the warm comforter and into my well-worn slippers. Sweats, hoodie, not bothering with a bra.
I slip out of the room and awake the house with the squeak of the stairs. The dining room is dark, cold, and unfamiliarly still as I grab the keys to start the car.
The preschooler has dance class this morning, so I walk softly to the kitchen and turn the slow-cooked oatmeal from low to warm. The fruit is cut, and I leave my husband a note with instructions.
I grab my backpack, carefully placed by the front door the night before and sling it over one shoulder, granola bar half in my mouth and I smile as I think of my ensemble resembling a 17-year-old boy.
The fresh layer of snow is waiting for my footprints as I make my way to the car, desperately in need of scraping. The thick layer of white acts as another barrier, or an excuse for me to turn around and head back to bed.
The dash reads 6:45 am.
I’m driving down the back lane that is yet to be plowed. The radio volume has been left set on loud, and Adam Levine is coming through the dashboard, giving me the final push to reverse out of the driveway. Forty degrees below freezing and I’m driving to the pool. I almost laugh.
I squeeze my small frame into my black Speedo one piece. It hugs tight, giving no grace to my backside. I pull on my swim cap on with a snap; my eyes shut tight as the latex tugs my hairline. I secure my goggles on my forehead. I pass the mirror but do not glance for fear of the costume I’ll see. Even though I want to, there is no hiding as I make my way to the pool deck.
I feel like an imposter as I join the well-seasoned swimmers in the lap area. The get-up says high school-swim-team-captain-turned-mom, when in reality I’m just a Mom who is somewhat afraid of water and needs the extra exercise. “Fake it till you make it,” I tell myself, although I’m unsure what my body plans on doing once it’s submerged. I pick my lane, crouch, and hesitantly slide in.
I’ve always had a pretty good relationship with exercise. A steady jog on the treadmill to the beat of Taylor Swift, using the occasional spin class with a friend as an excuse to catch up. Tennis courts in the summertime act as a great afternoon date. There was the year I joined a yoga studio and the recreational volleyball team. Hiking in the summer, and skating in the winter. Sweating has always been my go-to for burning stress. Swimming laps were next on the list to add to my resume of exercises I’ve started and (sometimes) dropped.
The sting of chlorine fills my face, and my thoughts travel back to the evening before. Wednesday nights are our busy nights. By five o’clock toys have been strung from the living room, basement, and to the dining room, giving evidence that the kids have exhausted their list of options and are ready to be fed. I head into the last room that isn’t pulled apart and start to bring out the various pots and pans, that quickly begin to litter the counters.
My phone is buzzing, and I debate answering and giving half my attention, anxious my girlfriend will hear the distraction in my voice or sending it to voicemail for the third time this week.
My daughter enters the kitchen to ask if her friend can come to play and I am met with the guilt that it’s still my turn to host a playdate.
Phone buzzes again, and I glance down– a request to engage in the reoccurring fight that I’m in with my sister.
The sauce has burned, and the baby is crying. I go to reach for the noodles remembering I haven’t done the weekly grocery shop yet. My husband comes in the door, tired smile and asks how my day was. I don’t have the words, so I spit out, “fine,” and bark orders to help with the toddler and feed the dog. We eat bolognese on rice.
Distracted, my pace slows, and I am reminded to focus.
panicked front crawl
panicked front crawl
I settle into my amateur rhythm, my deep gasping breaths playing the metronome. It’s been enough mornings now that I’m no longer concerned about whether the lifeguard is silently critiquing my technique, (she isn’t) and my brain slows down. Even through the deep inhales, and the hard mouth and nose bubbles – it’s quiet. My body relaxes with the silence. There is no music or instructor drowning out my thoughts, and so they wander.
It’s here, before my world is even awake, that I awaken. As my limbs move, my spirit is suddenly able to move too. My arms reach and push the water outward, creating a path for my mind to hear what my subconscious is saying. The noise of life and selfishness makes it difficult to hear. For two laps I swim the gauntlet of disappointment, sadness, loss, anger, and guilt. The pressures of motherhood and church involvement feel heavy just like my body does. I continue to move arms over my head as I try to work out resolve, my body again moving me in the direction of God’s grace. I feel his forgiveness before I’ve spoken it aloud. My heart is suddenly provided with goggles of its own, allowing me to clearly see both the legitimacy of my feelings and where I was at fault. I push hard to the end of my final lap and also towards a confession of unfair expectations, pride, and unwarranted martyrdom.
My 20 minutes underwater, away from all that pulls for my attention, reminds me that I don’t have a list of demands to meet, but hearts to care for. It’s with waterlogged ears that I hear a whisper I’ve heard many times over. I am loved so that I can love. I lift my face slightly out of the water and breathe in deep, not just the desperately needed air, but God’s Grace. Face down again as I stretch to reach for the wall as I breathe out violent bubbles and also, God’s Love.
Sometimes God’s voice is heard in a pew, and sometimes it’s loud and clear in the deep end.
I shakily hoist myself up and onto the pool deck and walk to the showers. I’m already planning my day, and I’m wondering if the toddler has eaten all her breakfast, but the pressure feels lighter now.
I pass the mirror, and this time, I stop and turn. I look the same yet feel very different.
Despite my tender muscles, I am stronger. An inhale of grace always comes before an exhale of love.
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Featured image by Holly Shafer Photography
Eleasha Ingels is mom to Evangeline and Judah and deeply in love with her husband, Jason. Her intent is for her words about the love she has for her family, her hope amidst struggle and doubt, and the faith she has in a man named Jesus, to be used as vehicles for others to connect thoughts to feelings. Aside from writing, she loves spending time outside, reading cookbooks, and will never say no to chocolate. You can connect with Eleasha at her blog, Facebook, and Instagram.